My friend Adolfo (aka Changa) recently started up a tree maintenance company and, being a serial entrepreneur myself, I wanted to express my support and wish him good success. I knew I was taking a risk because he had only been in business for a month or two and had very little applicable experience prior to that. My project was to remove a very large Douglas fir from my farm that had died from SODS a year earlier.
The market rate from companies like Davey Tree or Agri-Con for such a job was $2,300 to $2,400, and I had already gotten a bid of $1,875 from a small company I had used prior, but I decided to show my support by asking him to do it for his initial bid of $2,100.
This was a job that an experienced crew COULD have done in 6 hours, and WOULD have done in 8 hours[i]. . because they are skilled at timing the completion to coincide exactly with the scheduled quitting time but my friend came with a four-man crew (plus himself) at around 8:00 am and was still chipping slash at 7:00 pm. He obviously lost money on the job, as new owners often do but I hope the experience works in his favor. Having been in that same position many times in the past, I fully appreciate the anguish that comes with falling short, and I recall often having the support of others to help me with encouraging words and a slap on the back when I needed it; hence the following constructive critique[ii]. . accompanied by a handsome bonus.
PROBLEMS (that could have been avoided)
- I had asked that the 20-foot section above the stump be cut into two 10-foot pieces so I could have it milled for construction purposes. When the first one hit the ground, it rolled into the neighbor's fence .
- When I was away, they went onto the same neighbor’s property, taking two rails of the horse corral to use as pry bars to move the log away from the damaged fence .
- The truck driver backed off the road at one point and damaged two Christmas trees
- Having their chipper running well into the dinner hour was not appreciated by the surrounding neighborhood.
None of these things should be surprising, knowing that the owners have never run a business before. The important thing is for them to learn from their mistakes. Hopefully, the following rules for insuring a good business reputation turn out to be helpful. I will likely add to the list from time to time. I trust that the $500 bonus will serve as encouragement as well.
Notify your customer by phone, text, or email when your crew enters or leaves their property.
(enforces customer confidence that there is a responsible person in charge; also limits liability for insurance purposes)
Assign one person to be in charge of the crew (Foreman), who is the only person you communicate with when you are away from the job site.
(avoids errors due to miscommunication – must be trained to do the job on the crew member and be able to evaluate the performance of the others)
When inevitable mistakes happen that affect the property owner, don’t try to hide them; they are potential assets.
(always discovered later to become reputation blackmarks; can become learning experiences when reported and acted upon)
Never take friends, family, or pets to the job site.
(dangerous place not covered by Workers Comp or Liability insurance – customer lawsuits kill otherwise successful businesses)